Switching from fossil fuels to allegedly cleaner fuels may not be as good for the environment as advertised says the United Kingdom’s Times. Similar to the renewable fuels mandate in the United States, the UK has a Renewable Transport Fuel Obligation that requires 3.25% of fuel sold to come from crops – increasing to 13 percent by 2020. A new government study suggests that biofuels may actually be worse for the environment:
The findings show that the Department for Transport’s target for raising the level of biofuel in all fuel sold in Britain will result in millions of acres of forest being logged or burnt down and converted to plantations. The study, likely to force a review of the target, concludes that some of the most commonly-used biofuel crops fail to meet the minimum sustainability standard set by the European Commission.
Under the standard, each litre of biofuel should reduce emissions by at least 35 per cent compared with burning a litre of fossil fuel. Yet the study shows that palm oil increases emissions by 31 per cent because of the carbon released when forest and grassland is turned into plantations. Rape seed and soy also fail to meet the standard.”
Similar concerns have been raised in the United States, particularly with ethanol. The 2005 energy bill contained the first-ever requirement that renewable fuels be mixed into the gasoline supply. The 2007 energy bill increased the mandate substantially to 36 billion gallons by 2022.
Many environmental organizations have raised concerns about the increased inputs of energy, pesticides, and fertilizer needed to grow more corn.The same is true for the stress on water supplies, especially now that corn production is being expanded in locales where rainfall is insufficient and irrigation is needed. Even land that is now protected under federal conservation programs may soon be cleared for corn.
In addition, the facilities that turn corn into ethanol create emissions issues of their own. The goal of the ethanol mandate was to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but after taking into account the carbon dioxide emitted from ethanol production, the reduction in emissions is modest.
It would be wise for the UK to reconsider it’s renewable fuel obligation and it would be wise for the United States to do the same.